What an education. It's only now that I discover why ex-Staten Island Rep. Susan Molinari had the shortest career in the history of television punditry. At one point last week she was apologizing for Gov. Bush's cocaine history: "Take all the reporters," she said snottily, "and all the pundits and all the politicians and say, step forward if you haven't, you know, made those kinds of mistakes in your past and you're disqualified from anything further, and there wouldn't be too many people around."
Well, that's right, Susan. But isn't it funny how people have this double standard that makes them more cautious about the unhinged ambitious types who aspire to rule them?
At least we weren't missing anything back in the capital?or elsewhere. Imagine being a reporter sent down to cover last Saturday's Alabama straw poll. Billing their event as "the bellwether of the South," the organizers were hoping to draw... Alan Keyes and Orrin Hatch. Now there's an event worth spending a weekend milling around in the 112-degree heat for.
It was an especial relief to see the political shows full of John McCain's recent attempts to finesse the abortion issue. Because that's a "dead week" story if ever I heard one. For those who missed it, McCain, while continuing to call himself "pro-life," professed an indifference to whether Roe v. Wade gets overturned, in either the short or the long term. In other words, he's a pro-choice politician with a lot of pro-life donors to please.
No one seemed to get that. Matt Cooper of Time was right to link McCain's declaration to similar ones by Elizabeth Dole and George W. Bush. But he got the implications exactly backwards. "I think all of them," Cooper said, "are kind of winking to Republican primary voters, saying, 'Look, I'm basically pro-life, but hey, we need to be more moderate on this if we're going to win the general election... I may sound moderate, but I'll take you to pro-life policies.'"
Cooper's wrong. These GOPers are doing exactly the opposite: they're winking at pro-choice voters. They're saying, "Look?you know what it takes to get nominated in my party. Give me a pass on the rhetoric, and I'll guarantee you, you'll never have to worry about your abortion rights again." Ronald Reagan was the master at this game. As governor, he signed the law making abortion legal in California and, as president, he never once deigned to meet with pro-lifers during their annual march on the Mall. But you can fool your base for only so long. The danger to Bush is that cynical Republican presidential candidates have gone to the well of duplicity one time too many, and that the pro-life diehards who man the phone banks in the border and Great Lakes states will see through him and simply not show up. That's what crucified the Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections.
Al Gore and Bill Bradley face a similar predicament when deciding how sincere they have to be in courting the black left. Most campaigns have to make a push-comes-to-shove decision about whom to betray----suburban America or the fetus-wavers/trashcan bangers who make up their activist base. Those who decide to betray suburbia get punished, and that's why Bradley's public embrace of Al Sharpton last week was such a mistake. As soon as suburban America understands that Bradley means what he says about "economic justice," it will drop Bradley like a hot potato. In meeting with Sharpton, Bradley didn't deny himself the Democratic nomination. But he removed any chance that he can defeat George W. Bush?even if W is shown to keep a Folgers can of Colombian rock in his desk drawer in Austin.
Bradley's declaration of unelectability was the big story of last week. But in my week of watching all the Inside Politics I'll see all year, it was George Skelton of the L.A. Times?replacing someone or other who's probably staying two doors down from me in Delaware?who enunciated the greatest vapidity. Skelton went into a spiel about how?despite polls showing Bush has an excellent chance of breaking the Democrats' Clinton-era lock on California?it's John McCain who could be the strongest Republican in the Golden State. Skelton, suspected of being a nonsmoker, may like McCain's sponsorship of the 1998 tobacco agreement. But he claimed to think campaign finance reform was the key in California. Why? "The West is independent, more so than the East," Skelton bragged. "Voters out here appreciate independence... We're a long way from Washington."
That's just wrong. If the brains of the federal government are in Washington, New York and Boston, its two bountiful tits are located west of the Mississippi and in the Deep South. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan chaired the Senate Finance Committee, he published an annual document called the "Fisc," which showed the relation between what individual states paid into the federal government and what they got back. The Southern Republicans who've taken over the congressional leadership are considerably less eager to publicize this document. Not surprising. Because what it shows is that Southern and Western states (ironically, the hard-Republican, "get Washington off our backs" states) basically live off of money that Washington siphons out of the Northeastern states (ironically, the hard-Democratic, Washington-knows-best states).
The four states that traditionally compete for the honor of getting most shafted by the federal government are New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts. They all regularly pay about a buck-fifty in federal taxes for every dollar in federal payouts they get back. And the most cosseted, Washington-dependent, I'll-do-what-you-say-as-long-as-you-keep-the-money-comin' state in the union is New Mexico, which receives well over two bucks in services for every dollar it sends to DC. Which reminds me...
Spin Doctor If I may trash New Mexico one last time while the subject is still fresh in memory, a mere drive-through of Albuquerque on I-25 gives ample evidence the Land of Enchantment is also the Land of Cant. One exit sign is for a "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue," and with the "Doctor" stuck in there, it's so crammed with letters that it's nearly illegible at highway speeds. Now, every major city in the United States has a Martin Luther King something-or-other, but if I'm not mistaken, Albuquerque is the only one to insist on the honorific, as if to congratulate itself on noticing that a black man received a doctorate. Would a member of any other ethnic group receive such condescension? Can you imagine the "Doctor" Albert Einstein Center at Princeton?
There's also an avenue named after Cesar Chavez. Is it called Cesar Chavez Avenue? No! It's called Avenida Cesar Chavez, which (since precious few New Mexicans actually speak Spanish) gets spelled "Avienda" on most local maps. ¿Y por qué "Avenida"? Practically every small town between Pennsylvania and Maine has a Lafayette St., to commemorate the radical marquis who fought with Washington. But they're not called "rue Lafayette," for goodness' sakes.
So the one evidence of New Mexican humor in a week of road-tripping was particularly welcome. It was a billboard you see driving north between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Put up to advertise some leftist website, it's a parody of Western Boosterism that reads, "New Mexico: World Leader in Weapons of Mass Destruction."
Just as I was about to head home, Pete Domenici?an Italian-American who's lived in DC since he began representing New Mexico as senator back in 1972?decided that he can't win in such a climate without the ever-more-preponderant Hispanic vote. So he's decided to become Hispanic himself, by the only means people in his politically correct state understand----by paying for the privilege. He's set up "Pete's PAC," a "leadership PAC" that hopes to shovel $300,000 to Hispanics willing to run on the GOP ticket.
Domenici seems to believe that George W. Bush's experiments in Yo-Arblow-Expanyole-style Spanish ought to be sufficient to drag Mexican-Americans to the polls in the millions. "I think it's a very good year," says Pete, "to have Hispanics running in various places with [Gov. Bush] at the top of the ticket." Back during the Goldwater campaign, there were many who complained, "Wouldn't you know the first Jew to run for president would be an Episcopalian?" It looks like the first Hispanic to run for president will be a seersucker preppie from the Houston suburbs.
Gimy a Break Let me weigh in on the spat between Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez and manager Jimy Williams?since it could cost the Sox a trip to the World Series, a failure that would have broad implications for the future happiness of humanity. (Or at least the part of humanity that writes this column.)
On Aug. 14, Martinez, the best pitcher in baseball, showed up late for warmups (15 minutes late by his account, half an hour by Williams') on the day of a start. Williams benched him and, worse, brought him in for late-inning mop-up relief. I was in Boston at the time. Globe and Herald columnists, bar patrons and members of my immediate family were about evenly split on whether to back Williams or Martinez. This was no mere you-say-potahto type of disagreement. Those who backed Martinez are lovers of freedom. Those who backed Williams are mindless authoritarians.
Look?what is a baseball manager nowadays? Before the advent of the designated hitter in 1973, a manager who knew how to handle pitchers and pinch hitters (Earl Weaver, for instance) was an asset beyond measure, while a manager who didn't (Eddie Kasko, say) was a catastrophe. But managing today is literally managerial, a matter of making up lineups and scheduling practices.
Williams seems to have brought a bureaucratic pettiness to the latter duty. His supporters explained the benching of Martinez as a need to keep up "clubhouse discipline." Of course they did. Clubhouse discipline is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Granted, there are players who create such antic distraction?Joaquin Andujar, Wade Boggs, Jack Clark, Rickey Henderson, Darryl Strawberry?that they must be called to account. But Pedro Martinez is a 5-foot-11, non-steroid-enhanced workaholic whose first baseball glove was more likely than not a crushed milk carton donated by UNICEF. Since then he has built himself into a pitching genius through sheer dedication. Greg Maddux is as good a pitcher, but other than that, you'd have to go back to Sandy Koufax to find one similarly dominant. Some "bad influence."
Wasting Pedro's turn in the starting rotation on non-save-situation relief is shortchanging the team to serve the manager's delusions of authoritarian grandeur. It's recreational humiliation?and that humiliation is not rightly Williams' to dish out. Pedro doesn't work for Jimy Williams any more than Stephen King "works for" his copy editor. Back in the days of the reserve clause (the monopolist Major League tradition under which teams owned players and could give them a contract on a take-it-or-leave-it basis) you could make a case for authoritarian managing. After all, no one ever saw much use for a "sensitive" supervisor of a Soviet kolkhoz. But today? No.
At a series of impromptu press conferences called before his next few starts, Pedro damned both Williams and Dan Duquette, the Red Sox general manager (who is acquiescing in the planned closing of Fenway Park). As well he should have. Pedro is 17-4. In today's world of free agency, the market speaks. And what the market says is that Pedro is 10 to 15 times more important to the Red Sox than either Williams or Duquette.